October is known for many unpleasant surprises (e.g. stock market meltdowns), but “October Surprise” most commonly refers to a news event with the potential influence on the outcome of an election. One infamous “October Surprise” was Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign interference with President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran. The negotiations failed and the rest, as they say, is history. click here for Part 1 or here for Part 2.
Some believe the Anthrax letters that surfaced in late September – October 2001 was another effort to sway political opinion for the passage of the “Patriot Act” and to justify the neo-con plans to invade Iraq.
Now comes another “October Surprise" – the GAO has agreed to Congressman Rush Holt’s (12 District - NJ) request to review the technical and scientific processes the FBI used in identifying military microbiologist Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people. Representative Holt represents the area from which the anthrax spores were sent and who has been critical of the investigation. Some of Ivins' colleagues and others have also questioned the conclusion that the anthrax spores used in the attacks were derived from material produced and held in Ivins' laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md. (Jeremy Pelofsky, Reuters/Yahoo!News, Sept. 16).
"The American people need credible answers to many questions raised by the original attacks and the subsequent FBI handling of the case," Holt said in a press release. "I’m pleased the GAO has responded to our request and will look into the scientific methods used by the FBI."
The GAO review will be more expansive than a National Academy of Sciences examination requested by the FBI, Holt said.
"Specifically, the GAO will seek to answer the following questions: 1) What microbial and technical forensic methods did the FBI use to conclude that Bruce Ivins was the perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attack; how reliable and reproductive were those methods; and were the methods validated? 2) What scientific concerns and uncertainties, if any, remain? 3) What agencies, including intelligence agencies, are responsible for monitoring high containment laboratories in the U.S. and abroad; how do they monitor these laboratories; and how effective is their monitoring?" according to the release (U.S. Representative Rush Holt release, Sept. 15).
GAO Congressional Relations Managing Director Ralph Dawn said the National Academy review was expected to be completed this fall. Perhaps Dawn will shed some light on the dark days of October. If so, someone may be in for a big October Surprise.